A Lebanon man filed an $850,000 lawsuit alleging a crash he was injured by was caused in part by a negligent police officer who did not arrest an intoxicated driver.
The complaint, filed by Trevor Blanger in Linn County Circuit Court in January, names the city of Lebanon, Lebanon Police Department and Charter Oak Fire Insurance Company. Blanger was hit head-on by Gary Caviness in December 2018 on Highway 20 between Albany and Lebanon, according to court documents.
Caviness, who was charged with driving under the influence of intoxicants (cannabis) and fourth-degree assault after the crash, passed away in 2019. A lawsuit was initially filed in November 2020 in Multnomah County and named Caviness and his estate as defendants as well as Charter Oak. It was dismissed and filed again in January 2021 in Linn County against Lebanon, Lebanon PD and Charter Oak.
The first hearing in the matter was held in Linn County Circuit Court on Sept. 27.
Blanger claims prior to the crash, Lebanon Police Department received a witness report that Caviness was driving dangerously in the early morning on Highway 228 and Highway 20 into Lebanon. The witness alleged Caviness varied speeds from 40 to 60 mph, swerved into a ditch three or four times, and veered into oncoming lanes twice, nearly causing head-on crashes both times.
Lebanon Police Officer Joseph Staub conducted a traffic stop on Caviness for failing to maintain his lane and nearly causing a crash, according to court documents. The lawsuit claims Caviness told Staub he had crashed his truck previously that morning, requiring a tow truck to get out of a ditch, that Caviness had swerved off the road while overcorrecting in the fog, and that he had hit a road sign/marker.
The city admitted in court documents that Staub told Caviness he was unsafe to drive and should not continue, and that if he chose to continue driving, Caviness would likely crash or be arrested for reckless driving. Staub then let Caviness go with citations, and 20 minutes later Caviness and Blanger collided.
The city denied in court documents that Staub had the legal authority to prevent Caviness from continuing to drive. The city also disputed allegations that Staub was negligent in failing to arrest Caviness for driving under the influence or detain him until a safe driver could be arranged. This publication has filed a record request seeking body camera footage of the traffic stop.
James Healy, an attorney for Blanger, said Caviness was cited for reckless driving and failing to perform the duties of a driver before he was released from the traffic stop. Healy also said Blanger suffered a debilitating injury that required two surgeries and took him away from his normal duties as a millwright for about a year.
The lawsuit also claims Caviness’ insurance was insufficient for Blanger’s injuries, and therefore Blanger’s insurer, Charter Oak, owes for underinsured motorist benefits.
Court documents indicate an insurance policy of $100,000 for Caviness, but Blanger claims the coverage should go up to $1,000,000 under Oregon statutes. Underinsured motorist benefits cover when someone is injured by another person who doesn’t have adequate insurance to compensate for the injury.
Patricia Brockway, an attorney for Charter Oak, declined comment on the lawsuit. Kenneth Montoya, an attorney for the city of Lebanon, was not available prior to deadline.
The next hearing for the case is scheduled for Jan. 24 at the Linn County Courthouse.
Cody Mann covers the cities of Albany and Lebanon. He can be contacted at 541-812-6113 or Cody.Mann@lee.net.